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Sweet Charity   Print

by Mark Ellen
Guardian
June 17, 1986

Mark Ellen on the musical mix at America's great Amnesty gig

The rock industry's season of goodwill reached a new pitch on Sunday at the new giant Meadowlands Stadium New Jersey where 70,000 fans heard a motley choir - including The Police, U2, Peter Gabriel, Bob Geldof, Lou Reed, Yoko Ono, Joni Mitchell, Joan Armatrading, Jackson Brown, Muhammed Ali and the E Street Band - sing their hearts out for another of the world's good causes, Amnesty International.

The choir's song for human rights - there were 18 recently released political prisoners in the ranks - was the appropriately chosen Dylan composition, I Shall Be Released. This spectacle was the conclusion of a six-day tour of gigs across America - San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Atlanta and Chicago - in support of Amnesty and, although the cause was as ever a good one, the music was something of a mixed bag.

There is no more persuasive vehicle for competitive campaigning than the American stadium rock show or, in this case, a 12-hour multi-media advertising assault on Network TV with regular musical interludes. Stars flew in, rushed on stage to deliver their Amnesty message and brief set and rushed off only to reappear seconds later - towel round neck, drink in hand - to make the same points in a TV interview with hosts Elliot Gould and Christopher Reeve.

The music, of course, was a little less contemporary. Every enduring protest anthem imaginable was dusted down for the occasion, though not always given the most sympathetic treatment. Bob Geldof delivered a slightly ragged edition of Bob Marley's redemption song, Joan Baez completely shredded Let It Be and then promptly polished off Shout by Tears For Fears, the Times They Are A Changing and No Woman No Cry. Yoko Ono declared that "John is here in spirit with us" before reducing his Imagine to a series of excruciating shrieks and warbles.

But many of the rest were magnificent. Joni Mitchell played some of her recent languorous jazz. Jackson Brown sang I'm A Patriot while remaining reassuringly anti-Republican. The Police - quite possibly their last performance - revived some of their more "concerned" offerings (King Of Pain, Invisible Sun) but struggled in the wake of U2 who left the lasting impression.

 

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